Non-Western Beauty Standards

Béibhinn Thorsch

Beauty standards in Eastern countries have always differed from those in the West, however as globalisation increases how are these standards changing?

What drives the purchases and influences of those in the Westernised world is varied yet obvious – the drive for younger and fresher skin, a golden tan, perfect teeth, and a slim yet shapely figure is shown through not only advertisements but through fashion, television, and movies also. However as Korean beauty routines and Japanese fashion seeps into Western culture, and as globalisation continues to detract from the idea of certain groups of people needing to follow a certain ‘look’, it is important we see where these new standards first began.

In Asian countries, a current trend is to strive for a mix of both Asian and Western beauty ideals in to your look. These trends are seen through the type of models hired for acting and advertising work. In China, one of the most popular actresses is a quarter German and three-quarters Chinese. In South Korea, 11-year old model Ella Gross is half-American and has been called “the most gorgeous child model in the world” by the local media.

In China, small feet are also drawn into the equation of beauty. China has long been infamous for its history of foot binding, where the tight binding was applied to the feet of young girls to modify the shape and size of them, often resulting in incredibly deformed feet for the rest of their lives.

According to Professor of Asian Civilisations at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Emma Teng, intermixing among ethnic groups dates far back. When European traders arrived in China in the middle ages, mixed families commonly emerged.

However, the mentality of white skin being the most sought after and Western looks being superior is widespread across Asia. Scholars have noted that more indigenous facial features and darker skin have been devalued through colonial rule. Director of the University of Philippines Centre for Women’s and Gender Studies in Manila, Nathalie Africa-Verceles, said most of the popular movie stars and models are mixed race or fully white, saying “Those are the standards – they’re fair-skinned, slim, with high cheekbones and straight noses.”

These standards are far from what many Filipinos are born with, Africa-Verceles says. Many have darker skin, rounder faces, smaller eyes, and curly dark hair. In many Asian countries, white skin is a beauty ideal as it is a symbol of class and privilege. Larger eyes with double eyelids are now preferred, though in the past the natural look of slim eyes was seen as being tender or weak in nature.

These standards are the same for men in these countries, with body ideals being slightly different as although men are preferred to be skinny they must also be tall if they wish to reach the highest standard. This is possibly caused by the more common short stature in Asian men.

The effect of these ‘preferred’ looks is, of course, a pull to plastic surgery. In South Korea 980,313 plastic surgery operations were recorded in 2014, with the market expecting to grow to US$44 billion by 2025. This is also pushed by the extreme competitiveness in South Korean society.

However there is some resistance and push-back appearing from South Korean women in particular, plus-size modelling is growing, with some calling it “natural size modelling”. The scene is, of course, most alive in the capital city Seoul, where recently model Park I Seul held what she deemed a “non-discriminatory” fashion show.

South Korea is known to be deeply conservative and encouraging of sexism as is seen through the country having the largest gender pay gap of all developed countries (in 2017, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development). Also according to a 2018 survey by leading Such Korean recruitment website Saramin, 57 per cent of human resources managers agreed that the appearance of job applicants influences their evaluations.

Compared to Western culture, it seems there is less emphasis on individuality and more on conformity. Perfectionism and modesty is promoted and has more impact than the individuality and sexualisation which is maintained in Western countries. The values being upheld differ greatly, for better or worse.

Béibhinn Thorsch

Image credit: Kaiter News